New Orleans pianist-producer Allen Toussaint has to be one of the heaviest talents that this remarkable city has ever spat forth. The Rock & Roll Hall of Famer also served in the crucial capacity of upholding the Crescent City's postwar rumba-tinged, second-line R&B tradition -- exporting it beyond Louisiana via national hits for local lights Ernie K-Doe and Irma Thomas -- and later reaching out to stir it into the deep funk and soul explosion of the 1960s.
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This represents nothing less than a remarkable stewardship, and in the process, Toussaint expanded N.O.'s sound into wild new permutations -- he's the cat who mentored those rowdy Neville Brothers into the Meters, honing their spellbinding syncopation when they served as house band at Toussaint's studio. His track record includes writing innumerable hits like "Workin' in the Coal Mine" for Lee Dorsey to (say what?) Herb Alpert's "Whipped Cream," but don't let all that overshadow Toussaint's own gifts as a performer; he's got way more tricks in his bag than "Southern Nights," and this date should serve as a mind-rendingly comprehensive display of New Orleans' most bewitching music. (Jonny Whiteside)